BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Gutting the government has been its primary raison d'être since its' founding in 1973, and not since the early days of the Reagan administration has it been closer to realizing that goal. The clatter you've been hearing since Election Day is the sound of Heritage Foundation staffers moving out of their lavish headquarters and marching over to Donald Trump's White House. Not only has the Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.'s most influential right-wing think tank/propaganda mill, provided blueprints on all sorts of issues for the Trump administration, it was hyperactive during the transition, vetting candidates for administration positions and providing the critical list of potential conservative Supreme Court nominees. Now, it is providing loyal administration soldiers.
Once disenchanted by Trump, characterizing him as a big-government and left-wing sympathizing type of guy, Heritage, under the leadership of former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, has more than made peace with The Donald. Trump's taking on of Mike Pence as his vice president aided the process immensely.
During the transition, Heritage staffers became a "crucial conduit between Trump's orbit and the once-skeptical conservative leaders who ultimately helped get him elected," according to Politico's Katie Glueck.
Heritage is "absolutely the fulcrum, and essential to staffing the administration with people who reflect Trump's commitments across the board," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of Susan B. Anthony List, a major anti-abortion group. "I can say it's been a source of great confidence during the election to know that principled people were planning for a Trump administration."
"Heritage's ties to the administration have received relatively little press," Theo Anderson writes in the April edition of In These Times in an article titled "The Right-Wing Machine Behind The Curtain."
"With its academic gloss, it may seem benign set against the extremism and zaniness that dominate the headlines: a press secretary only marginally less bizarre than the Saturday Night Live spoof of him; a key advisor who embraces the role of Darth Vader; cabinet picks who have promised to abolish the institutions they lead; executive orders that stigmatize Muslims and violate the Constitution; attacks on the press as 'the enemy of the American people'; and on and on," Anderson writes.
Heritage, which has a $100 million annual budget and occupies an enormous complex in D.C., publishes The Daily Signal, which the organization claims has more than two million readers. Through its electoral unit, Heritage Action, it has become an influential political asset to Tea Party/Freedom Caucus Republicans.
Heritage's Severino to HHS
In some ways, the recent appointment of Roger Severino, a former Heritage staffer, to a relatively minor, but significant, position in the Department of Health and Human Services is indicative of Heritage's broad influence in this administration.
According to ProPublica's Charles Ornstein, Severino, formerly the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, where he focused on 'religious liberty, marriage and life issues,' will be the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Severino was previously chief operations officer and legal counsel for the ultra-right Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
"The civil rights office is in charge of enforcing patient privacy protections and ensuring that patients' civil rights are protected, that they are free from discrimination and that they have access to services such as interpreters," Ornstein reported.
Ornstein pointed out that Severino is no friend of or supporter of transgender rights. Last year, when "the agency issued rules banning discrimination against transgender patients, carrying out provisions of the Affordable Care Act. A federal judge put those rules on hold on Dec. 31, siding with a Catholic hospital system, other religious health providers and five states that challenged them. The Trump administration has not sought to overturn the injunction.)
At the time, Severino and Ryan Anderson, a Heritage colleague, criticized them: "By prohibiting differential treatment on the basis of 'gender identity' in health services, these regulations propose to penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases," Severino and Anderson wrote.
Severino and Anderson argued that HHS "would effectively require controversial procedures, such as 'sex-reassignment' surgery, that respected medical professionals argue have not been proven effective in treating serious mental health conditions."
Severino is also a big time advocate of defunding Planned Parenthood. In September of last year, he wrote a column for Heritage's the Daily Signal maintain: "Instead of allowing Planned Parenthood access to new federal funding streams, Congress should be closing the spigot entirely. Such a move would reflect the simple fact [that] Planned Parenthood has long since disqualified itself from taxpayer money because of its callous disregard for innocent human life."
In These Times' Theo Anderson gets it right when he writes: "Heritage isn't an appendage of the Trump administration's radicalism. It's the heart of it."